Lower Rio Grande Valley


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North America » United States » Texas » Mission
April 19th 2009
Published: April 20th 2009EDIT THIS ENTRY

Cactus FlowersCactus FlowersCactus Flowers

At last the cactus (Prickly Pear) are starting to flower!
We are coming to the end of a month spent in Mission, Texas, located in the Rio Grande Valley. The RV resort we are staying at is Bentsen Palm Village, next door to Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, and the nicest rv park we have encountered in our short history as world travelers. The park has very large sites with abundant native plantings throughout. Moxie has made many canine friends at the huge dog park, which has a complete agility course, giving Lynn an opportunity to help Moxie brush up on her skills. The close proximity of the rv park to the state park is a real plus, giving Jon a short 15 minute bike ride to the hawk tower within the state park. Jon has volunteered to help count migrating hawks as they return to the U.S. from Central and South America. Included in this travelblog is also some information about many of the wonderful birding sites within the Lower Rio Grande Valley that we have visited during the last three weeks.


Additional photos below
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Bentsen Palm Village RV ResortBentsen Palm Village RV Resort
Bentsen Palm Village RV Resort

This park has sites for over 245 RVs. The majority of the "Winter Texans" (what RV visitors are affectionately called) in this park are Canadian, particularly from the province of Ontario. Since many start leaving for home beginning at the end of March, the park is becoming quite deserted.
The Pool at Bentsen Palm Village RV ResortThe Pool at Bentsen Palm Village RV Resort
The Pool at Bentsen Palm Village RV Resort

The weather in the Valley is truly tropical. It has been quite warm with highs in the 90°F most days and very little rain (twice during the past three weeks). Fortunately, the park has a very nice, well-maintained pool. Daily lap swimming has benefited Jon's back.
Our site at Bentsen Palm Village RV Resort Our site at Bentsen Palm Village RV Resort
Our site at Bentsen Palm Village RV Resort

Our site was on the periphery of the park overlooking a large pasture with a herd of Brahman cattle and an attending flock of Cattle Egrets.
The Dog RunThe Dog Run
The Dog Run

Moxie has enjoyed her many dog friends at the dog run.
Moxie and Lynn go through the agility courseMoxie and Lynn go through the agility course
Moxie and Lynn go through the agility course

Patience and a lot of treats are all that is needed to get Moxie through the agility course.
Entrance to The Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State ParkEntrance to The Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park
Entrance to The Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park

This is a walk/bike-only state park or you can take the tram which circles through the park on the half-hour from 0800 to 1700.
Bird feeders along the park roadBird feeders along the park road
Bird feeders along the park road

A variety of feeders and water features attract many of the regions specialty birds for easier viewing. Here we see an Altamira Oriole, a Mexican species only seen in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of the U.S.
Painted Bunting (male)Painted Bunting (male)
Painted Bunting (male)

Not all birds are attracted to feeders, so bird watching requires that you spend a lot of time in the field looking (and listening) for them.
Northern Cardinal (male)Northern Cardinal (male)
Northern Cardinal (male)

The cardinal is somewhat of a rare bird in South Texas and causes a stir when seen.
Bird blind at the State ParkBird blind at the State Park
Bird blind at the State Park

Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park has many blinds or hides (as our British friends would say) associated with feeders and water features. The water features are used by the birds for drinking or bathing. This year there were notably fewer birds than two years ago, perhaps due to the current drought.
Collared peccary or JavalinaCollared peccary or Javalina
Collared peccary or Javalina

This is a common mammal at the park. Two years ago we saw many young javalina, but none this year, again, perhaps, due to the drought.
 Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park  Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park
Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park

The tram returns to the visitor center after circling the park's 3-mile main road.
Morning view of the El Morillo Blanco Resaca from the Hawk TowerMorning view of the El Morillo Blanco Resaca from the Hawk Tower
Morning view of the El Morillo Blanco Resaca from the Hawk Tower

One of the many things we did in the Lower Rio Grande Valley was to help with the spring census of migrating hawks passing north through the Valley. The count is done from 0800 to 1200 each day.
"Kettle" of hawks and vultures"Kettle" of hawks and vultures
"Kettle" of hawks and vultures

Counting raptors (including both vultures and hawks) involved estimating the numbers of each species as they moved northward past an imaginary east-west line centered on the hawk tower. Typically, raptors gain elevation by soaring up a column of rising air (called a thermal) and when sufficiently high, slowly gliding downwind without the need to flap and expend energy. This allows them to travel several hundred miles in one day. Counting is easiest as the birds descend in a wide swath from the top of one thermal to the base of the next. Migrating hawks move in mixed flocks that may contain several different species. Kettle size varies from 20 to over 500 birds. The small kettle shown in the picture contained about 36 individuals of three species (19 Turkey Vultures, 15 Broad-winged Hawks, and 2 Swainson’s Hawks).
Flock of AnhingaFlock of Anhinga
Flock of Anhinga

Not all soaring birds are hawks. Anhingas ride thermals like many birds of prey, but they usually fly as a flock and are all oriented in the same direction.
Hawk CountersHawk Counters
Hawk Counters

The number of raptors observed varies with the time of the year and weather conditions. On a "big" day, over 5000 individuals of 10-12 species might be recorded in four hours.
Hawk TowerHawk Tower
Hawk Tower

The hawk tower is over 35 feet high and has a ramp that makes it handicapped and small child accessible. Hawk count data is shared with other participants via the web.
Social group of Groove-billed Anis. Social group of Groove-billed Anis.
Social group of Groove-billed Anis.

Common in Mexico, rare in the U.S., the Groove-billed is in the cuckoo family of birds. Groups are very social, like to cuddle, and groom each other. This group was commonly seen around the hawk tower.
Red-winged Blackbird shows its colors.Red-winged Blackbird shows its colors.
Red-winged Blackbird shows its colors.

Often a bird common back home seems more exotic and photographable in a foreign land.
World Birding Center Headquarters World Birding Center Headquarters
World Birding Center Headquarters

Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park is also the headquarters of the World Birding Center (WBC), a partnership between local municipalities, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Texas State Park system. There are over nine WBC sites in the Valley and all are worth a visit. The following describes are a few that we particularly enjoy.


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